At CAL, our learning coaches have found that when it comes to balancing study and work, there seem to be two types of people. Those who believe that a work/life balance is a myth, just like the Holy Grail, and those who do whatever it takes in the quest for that elusive Holy Grail.
Over the years, our coaches have developed the view that perhaps work/life balance is found somewhere in the middle.
Here are seven easy tips to help you balance study and work and improve your work/life balance – whatever that is for you.
1. Be proactive, not reactive
We all have a long list of to do’s to get through every day. If you get to the end of the week and have a long list with no ticks, you are going to feel off-centre. Get ahead of your to do list by:
- Having one list for each key area of your life (e.g., family, work, study, hobbies, health)
- Prioritising what needs to be done by how much stress it is causing you. It is tempting to do lots of small items ahead of that one big thing that is giving you the most grief. Get that big thing out of the way, and you’ll find you have more energy to tackle the small items.
- Domino your actions by seeing if there is one key To Do that will knock out more of the others.
- Delegate: Ask for help from friends, family, co-workers or your boss. Sharing the stress really can halve the stress
Studies have found that there is a finite amount of willpower we are capable of in any day. Research into our brain and psychology shows that we are better off focusing willpower on one key behavioural change at a time, e.g.: either diet or exercise, but not both at the same time. Also, when we take on too much change at once, we stress out our brain and doom ourselves to failure.
Therefore, when you take on something new and important such as adult learning and online study, be sure to use your willpower wisely and direct it all to strengthen powerful habits in this area.
3. Smart not Hard
As Einstein is famously quoted, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. For the next 30 minutes put on your Smart hat. Pause and look at your life through a smart-not-hard lens. What are you stubbornly doing the hard way? Where could you make smarter choices? Be as honest and compassionate with yourself as possible so that you can make change easy. Have a good laugh about the things you’ve been doing too hard for too long and let them go.
Our bodies are built to move and moving makes us feel good. Even light exercise such as walking or gentle stretching releases endorphins and hormones that make us feel better about life and give us clarity of thinking. If you are stuck on an idea or a concept, the best thing to do is take a break and go for a walk around the block. When you return to your desk, you’ll find you’ll have renewed inspiration. Posture is also important. You will think and work better sitting upright than when you are slouched or lying down. The growing popularity of standing desks is evidence of how essential posture and movement is in achieving productive results when you work or study.
Rituals are very popular at the moment and go beyond the morning cup of coffee! Many thought leaders have evening and morning rituals which help them to be focused and balanced. Rituals can include exercise, meditation, journaling, making priority lists, daily or weekly goal review, and listening to a regular motivational podcast or playlist. Rituals are best when they take you outside of your day-to-day stress and support your purpose.
As author and motivator Simon Sinek says, ‘Start with Why.’ Your ‘why’ gives you a sense of purpose and perspective needed to keep balanced.
Why do you work? Think about your answer knowing that there isn’t a right answer. You might work to pay the bills, to fulfil a skill, support your family, to hone your trade, or to be of service. The key is to be honest, and then decide if that answer brings you balance.
Why do you study? If you don’t have a strong Why to get your eyes in front of your study then it won’t happen. Is it for career aspirations or to get a better salary? Dig deeper, what is the Why behind that – what will a better career and more money give you? Perhaps it means a better home for you and your kids, travel opportunities, to open your own business one day, or because you simply have a dream to be the best version of you that you can be?
Why is balance important to you? Burning the candle at both ends isn’t balance, but neither is being lazy and slow to act. You need to know your personal place of productivity and hold yourself accountable to that. Find the values that trigger your desire for balance such as family, security, freedom or health. Choose a visual image that represents purpose and balance for you and use it as screen saver.
7. Rest and Sleep
A couple of 2 am study sessions over the term of your course is sustainable. Doing this once a week or more is not. You will simply burn out and you won’t be doing your best work. If you develop the six other tips above, you’ll find you have more pockets of time in which to do your study, balance work and home, and still get enough quality sleep. Taking regular rest breaks, say five mins every 75 mins is another way to stay balanced.
What tips do you have to balance study or to improve work/life balance?